On a bright sunny morning in March, hundreds of students at the National University of Singapore (NUS) packed up their belongings, and left for home. Their education was now fully online: classes, conversations, examinations.

While universities are being forced to adapt en masse, remote learning is here to stay, believes Tommy Hor, Chief IT Officer of NUS. “We envisage this is a growing trend moving ahead.”

Hor discussed with GovInsider how the university continues to run classes amidst Covid-19 and ensure they are secure.

Replicating the Classroom

Similar to other universities, NUS is running classes over video conferencing. This enables students to discuss ideas and issues with peers; and allows professors to assess student learning. “To remain responsive, we have to assess the learning outcomes and be prepared to adjust the implementation strategies accordingly”, explains Hor.

Technology has allowed the university to cater to diverse student needs created by Covid-19. Recorded lectures make classes flexible and accessible to students in different time zones. Meanwhile, project management and polling apps help unique teaching methods like group projects.

Lecturers have also leveraged advanced technologies like virtual reality and AI to improve learning experiences in classes. The technologies are usually combined with game design elements to help students learn in more creative ways. Faculty can create then “simulated scenarios that would otherwise have been difficult to replicate in classrooms”, says Hor.

Maintaining Security

With new technology, however, comes new risks. Students are accessing NUS systems from various locations with less secure devices and networks, increasing the risk of cyber attacks. “Ensuring cybersecurity is an extremely important task and a major undertaking of the university”, affirms Hor.

The university combats this risk by testing its full IT system, including infrastructure, software, cloud and network connected devices. Tests include “regular vulnerability scans, penetration testing, phishing drills and audits”, says Hor.

Apart from hardware, security policies are also an important component of cybersecurity. ““As part of good governance and practices, we regularly review our security policies, standard operating procedures and compliance processes to ensure they are relevant and updated”, he adds.

Data and analytics

NUS uses data analytics to improve remote learning across classes. “Student performance data will help our faculty to review their contents, pedagogies and strategies” says Hor. Professors can analyse attendance and assessment data to measure their teaching methods, and alter these methods to match students’ changing needs.

The institution hopes to use analytics from social media in the future. “We are constantly applying analytics and social media sensing tools and techniques to harness new insights, content and information” says Hor.

Research is an important component of NUS’ work. But in order to produce good research, researchers must be able to store and access large amounts of data remotely. Cloud technology has allowed NUS to “support data-intensive research work and collaborations across the regions”, says Hor. This allows students and faculty to continue research in a flexible manner, regardless of where they are operating from.

The pandemic may have thrown a curveball for the university’s teaching plans this year. But with NUS’ innovative use of technology for remote learning, this might just be the new normal in tertiary education.